Hadrians Wall Again. June 2018.
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
It is nine years since I lasted visited Hadrian’s Wall and I wrote about that visit. The wall has not changed in that time! Here are some facts. Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in AD 122. At 73 miles (80 Roman miles) long, it crossed northern Britain from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. The most famous of all the frontiers of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987. It is located in the north of England not far from the Scottish border. Presumably it was built to keep out the marauding Scots! The Glasgow HF Outdoor Club https://www.meetup.com/Glasgow-HF-Outdoor-Club/ planned a weekend of walks along the wall. You can read about the wall on https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadrians-wall/history-and-stories/history/.
The Romans are reputed to have reached Inverness in Scotland and in fact Pontius Pilate was possibly born in Fortingall in Perthshire when they invaded Scotland for the first time in AD80, reaching the area including Perthshire in about AD83. It is reported that Caesar Augustus fathered a child with a Caledonian woman and he was Pontius Pilate which makes him half Scottish!
We stayed at the George Hotel in Chollerford which was very comfortable and convenient for the AD 122 bus that travels along the wall offering a shuttle service to points of interest. Just love that quirky bus number!
On the first day we took the AD122 to Milecastle Inn to walk the nine miles to Housesteads Fort along the wall. To my mind, this is the best bit of the wall to walk. People on the longer walk took the bus to Greensteads and finished at Vindolanda which is a stunning fort and town with a recreation at the museum. I had been there on the last visit. The weekend was primarily a walking and social holiday but we also had the Roman history as a bonus.
This part of the walk has many ups and downs which we referred to as undulations. It was a beautiful sunny day and the route was surprisingly quiet apart from 200 walkers we passed on a Charity Walk for Cancer Research, some of them wearing pink tutus! The views were clear over the surrounding countryside which is mainly agricultural and fairly flat. The Romans always built in a straight line and over hilly bits rather than going round them so undulations have to be expected. The wall is in good condition and well restored. The stone wall was originally a maximum height of about 15 feet (4.6 metres), 10 Roman feet (3 metres) wide, enough for there to have been a walkway along the top, and perhaps also a parapet wall. Now it is about four feet high in most sections.
We came to a gap at Steele Rigg where there was a lone sycamore tree in the dip and this was featured in the 1991 film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, starring Kevin Costner. It is probably the most photographed site in Northumberland.
We stopped for lunch at Sill Visitors Centre named after Whin Sill, the crags on which Hadrian built the wall. The Centre has a grassland roof with fine views over the countryside. The walk continued to Housesteads Fort where we caught the bus back to Chollerford.
On the second day, we caught our favourite AD122 bus to Housesteads to walk back to the hotel at Chollerford. The forts on the wall are interesting as they housed a full settlement, known as vicus, which included local people who worked for the Romans. We know the Romans were very civilised and had baths, toilets and a hospital in their settlements.
There were the usual ups and downs to walk and then it levelled out until we reached the temple at Brocolitia and stopped for lunch in the sunshine. Brocolitia is the remains of a third-century Roman temple to the Sun God Mithras, a cult which first started in Persia. It was built next to a Roman fort. There are also a few remains of a sacred well dedicated to the Celtic water goddess Coventina. The Roman name of Brocolitia was probably based on the original Celtic name for the area meaning ‘Badger Holes’. The walk continued mostly without the evidence of the wall but sometimes there were short sections of the wall and mostly restored to a fairly low level.
Near Chollerord, I called in at the Chesters Fort which is Britain’s most complete cavalry fort. It has Britain’s best preserved military bath house. Bath houses were important to the Roman Soldiers as they were social spaces to relax in as well as for cleanliness. Soldiers came from all over the empire in the hope they could become Roman citizens so many languages were spoken. There were sweating rooms, hot rooms and warm rooms, all with evidence of underfloor heating and also cold rooms.
Back at the hotel we relaxed and toasted a wonderful weekend. Thanks to Stephen for the organisation of the walks on the weekend. The weekend was too short for all there was to see. The following day we took the bus to Hexham to catch the train. Hexham has a renowned Cathedral but alas we did not have time to visit it. Maybe another time……
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Thanks to Kathleen Hodge for her sycamore tree photograph.
This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
Filed under: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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